The county is teaming up with churches, other local groups for 24 hours of outreach, assessment
The usual meeting of the Housing and Homeless Taskforce on the first Tuesday of every month (except July and August) was cancelled Jan. 7, because everyone normally involved was busy getting organized for Flagler County’s annual point-in-time count, the 24-hour period designated by the federal government for local agencies to count their nearby homeless populations.
Janet Nickels, program manager with the Flagler County Department of Social Services, said this is indispensable for bringing down grant money for the county and for allocating resources toward aiding the homeless population. This year, the time for the PIT count is noon Jan. 23 to noon Jan. 24.
“It’s so much more than our preparations in January,” Nickels said. “It’s building relationships 365 days out of the year.”
And the PIT count is more than a count — it’s a survey that helps the county understand what its homeless residents need financially or medically, what resources they could be connected to that would assist them. Having pre-existing relationships with many of Flagler’s homeless population, due to coordinating indigent health care or working with some of the local churches that provide services to the homeless, makes the annual count easier and has helped the department more accurately assess their needs since the county began doing PIT counts in the early 2000s.
As part of the outreach associated with this year’s count, the Human Services division of social services started a Thanksgiving tree project with several local churches, akin to an angel tree normally seen around Christmas; necessities were advertised on a tree and donated by those interested. Nickels said they and the men’s club of St. Mark by the Sea Lutheran Church will join the Flagler branch of the Boys and Girls Club at Rymfire Elementary School to make “blessing bags” full of items collected from the Thanksgiving tree.
“We always invite a student group to help us,” Nickels said. “We want to foster dialogue with them and teach about community service, foster empathy with one another. That bag is saying ‘We care about you.’”
The bags will contain necessities and helpful items like woolen hats, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks, etc., as well as what Nickels calls a “211 card,” with list of places useful to homeless people — where you can get your laundry done or get a hot meal, for example.
The Volusia-Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless is responsible for identifying when the count time will be each year, and makes the survey based both on a template from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and on community-specific input. It is also providing training for the PIT count volunteers Thursday and Friday, Jan. 16-17 on the third floor of the Flagler County Government Services Building at 1769 E. Moody Blvd, Bunnell.
Nickels said this is the first year in which a coordinator for the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery initiative, Deanna O’flaherty, will be working with them through Flagler Cares.
“A lot of our homeless have disabilities, mental, physical,” Nickels said.
Trying to help them apply for Social Security Disability Insurance is difficult without an address or consistent cell service, but she is optimistic that having a SOAR coordinator will help get people connected to needed assistance.
“It’s good for the health and wellbeing of the individual as well as the entire community,” she said.